103. I, Houdini by Lynne Reid Banks

I, Houdini: The auto-biography of a self-educated hamster by Lynne Reid Banks. Illustrated by Susan Hellard. (Canada) - (US) buy at Book Depository
First Modern Classics

Pages: 200 pages
Ages: 7+
Finished: June 1, 2010
First Published: 1978, (FMC edition, 2010)
Publisher: Harper Collins (UK)
Genre: children, animal fantasy
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

I am Houdini.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Harper Collins Canada.

Reason for Reading: I enjoy the author and have always wanted to read this title. But specifically I was intrigued with the publisher's new list under the title of "First Modern Classics" aimed at younger readers. Originating from the publisher's UK house the titles on this list, which started last year (2009) are a unique selection for North American readers.

I, Houdini is a long time classic of the author's, though this is my first time reading it. This book includes new illustrations, which replace the original ones by Terry Riley, not having an older book handy to compare I can't comment, though usually I'm not a fan of replacing illustrations. These illustrations are cute, detailed, line drawings which begin each chapter header, each illustration is unique and relevant to the chapter.

An aspect of the "First Modern Classics" series I really like is first at the front there is a short paragraph by a famous author called "Why You'll Love this Book" which Michael Bond provides in this instance. Then at the back there is "More Than a Story" section with its own Table of Contents. This one includes real information on caring for hamsters, info on the real Houdini, a recipe for a hamster treat that humans will love too, and ends with some magic tricks, fun and games. An impressive section that is worthy of inclusion.

I, Houdini is the story of a pet hamster, originally named Goldie, who is an intelligent being. The narrative is from his point of view but he is a proper hamster; this is not a talking animals fantasy. The only thing fantastical about the story is ... well ... that a hamster could write a book! Goldie does not like being in a cage no matter how fancy it is or how many levels it has, he wants out to explore and find his own place to build a nest. Luckily for him, escaping his cage is a cinch and he has many adventures around the house. The children eventually change his name to Houdini because of his escapist talent and no matter how secure they make his cage, how many books they pile on top, Houdini will always find a way to escape. Problem is when he escapes he often causes trouble such as making a nest inside the piano out of the lovely felt he found stuck to some metal bars. Then there was the time he got stuck under the kitchen floor and thought that if he gnawed a small hole in the water pipe that would give him a drip of water to quench his thirst, instead it creates a gusher and floods the whole kitchen. Many things happen causing friction between Houdini & the children vs their father who is not a patient, nor animal loving man.

A fun, clever story with lots of laugh out loud moments. Well-written and never written down to its younger audience it's no wonder that this book still captures children's (and adult's) hearts today. Two caveats, the father does say d*mn twice and takes the Lord's name in vain once. Both of which I think is needless for a book aimed at an all ages audience. There is also a "mating" scene; this takes place off the pages, but the boys, who are visiting a teenaged boy do make a few suggestive comments, as they place the two hamsters together, that feel out place in an otherwise wholesome story. Nevertheless, these issues will only matter to some and can be handled easily during a read aloud as the book is a joy to read. Houdini is a lovable character and animal lovers are sure to enjoy this book.


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